Nuclear physicists seek to unlock the mysteries of lithium with gamma-rays

The ELI-NP building in Romania

ELI NP in Romania will be home to the world’s most advanced laser and gamma beam facility.
(Credit: ELI-NP)

Lithium – modern technology depends on it, from batteries for mobile phones, to powering electric cars, and even treating bipolar disorder. It was one of the three elements to be produced in large quantities during the Big Bang, but 13.8 billion years later, questions about how this intriguing element came into existence still remain.

Nuclear physicists from the University of York, with colleagues from ELI-NP in Romania, have been working together in a bid to solve the long standing mysteries about how the first lithium was produced in the cosmos.

In an experiment funded by STFC, carried out at the High Intensity Gamma Ray Source (HIGS) in North Carolina, USA, the team has recently been studying how to break up lithium using the powerful gamma-ray beam.

Dr Christian Diget from University of York, who is the leading UK researcher on the project, said: “Our aim is to obtain the most in-depth understanding yet into how lithium was produced during the Big Bang. By literally breaking up lithium, hitting it with an energetic gamma ray, we are able to study the inverse reaction of early lithium production in the universe.”

The success of using gamma-rays for this research at HIGS paves the way for future experiments at the European Extreme Light Infrastructure for Nuclear Physics (ELI-NP) in Bucharest, Romania, which, when fully operational, will be home to the world’s most advanced laser and gamma beam facility in the world. It will allow Diget and the team to initiate studies of a suite of new gamma-induced reactions.”

But it’s not quite ready for them yet. Critical bespoke components for the particle accelerator at ELI-NP have been built and tested at STFC’s Daresbury Laboratory, and the first of the shipments of the modules has successfully completed the long journey to Romania. In total, the modules, together with power supplies, control systems and instrumentation all built at Daresbury will soon be playing a key role in powering the most powerful tuneable gamma source in the world.

Professor John Simpson, Head of STFC’s Nuclear physics Group, says: “From discovering the origin of elements in the cosmos, to playing a key role in developing the world leading facilities that makes this research possible, this is a very exciting time to be a nuclear physicist, and STFC is committed to keeping the UK at the forefront of research in this area.”

Further information:

University of York Department of Physics

ELI-NP | Extreme Light Infrastructure - Nuclear Physics

STFC’s Nuclear Physics Group: STFC is the UK sponsor of nuclear physics research and its Nuclear Physics Group, based at its Daresbury Laboratory, supports and contributes to the UK’s Nuclear Structure research programme. The group's main role is to support and contribute to the UK's Nuclear Structure research programme.

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